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Media Earnings Buzz: Viacom & Time Warner Cable

Thursday is a big morning for media: Two giants—Viacom and Time Warner Cable—report quarterly earnings before the bell.

Viacom is under pressure from declining ratings at its cable networks, which comprise the majority of revenue and earnings. MTV's prime time ratings were off 18 percent, while Comedy Central declined 15 percent in the fourth quarter, despite the presidential election.

A sequential move higher from the 6 percent decline in domestic ad sales in the prior quarter "will likely be seen as a positive data-point by the market," David Miller, an analyst at B. Riley Caris, wrote.

(Read More: What Do 'Cable Nevers' Mean for TV's Future?

Wedbush analyst James Dix sees the possibility of long-term growth for Viacom.

"...we believe that improved measurement of tablets and smart phones could disproportionately help Viacom's growth over the next 12-18 months," he wrote. And the benefit comes in part from the explosion of mobile devices.

Viacom Headquarters in New York City.
Scott Eelis | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Viacom Headquarters in New York City.

"[Viacom's] networks should have more audience ratings upside than most from the inclusion of tablet ratings by Nielsen," Dix said.

And Viacom's studio, Paramount, faces some very tough comparisons to "Mission Impossible 4," and the disappointment of "Rise of the Guardians."

In its fiscal first quarter of 2013, Viacom's revenue is expected to dip 12 percent to $3.5 billion as earnings per share are projected to fall 15 percent to 90 cents.

Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable is expected to benefit from moderating losses of video subscribers, and from growth of broadband subscribers and voice subscribers. The cable giant will also benefit from its political advertising and pricing power.

(Read More: Companies Battle for Digital Content at CES.)

The second largest cable company's earnings per share are expected to grow 18 percent to a $1.55, on 10 percent higher revenue of $5.5 billion dollars.

However, the focus will be on Time Warner Cable's new local TV deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is currently being reviewed by Major League Baseball. The 25-year deal is estimated at $7 billion and is expected to dramatically drive up subscriber costs. Customer fees in L.A. will go up 8.2 percent from last year, compared to a typical annual hike of just about 3.5 percent.

Investors will be waiting to hear how the company plans to make its investment worthwhile. Morgan Stanley analyst Ben Swinburne wrote that the relevant metric for the Dodgers sports network's impact on its own economics is not outright profitability.

"[It] makes economic sense so long as the (risk-adjusted) cost of operating the network is less than TWC would have had to pay another RSN for Dodgers content over the next 25 years," he wrote.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin; Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.